Garda Commissioner apologises on behalf of Corrib officers

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has tonight apologised on behalf of several officers who admitted joking about raping two women protesters in their custody.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has tonight apologised on behalf of several officers who admitted joking about raping two women protesters in their custody.

Commissioner Callinan said five members of his force had been confined to desk-bound duties while police watchdog the Garda Ombudsman investigates.

Four of the officers at the centre of the so-called "rape tape" controversy have also been transferred out of their own bases to their divisional headquarters in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

"I am sorry for the offence caused to the community we serve and for the hurt and pain felt, in particular, by victims of sexual crime," Commissioner Callinan said.

The apology came just hours after one of two women protesters involved went public to demand an independent inquiry into the policing of oil giant Shell's contentious gas pipeline project, on the north Mayo coastline.

Jerrie Ann Sullivan, a postgraduate student from Dublin, said the remarks, unwittingly recorded on a video camera, of gardaí joking about raping them had been deeply traumatic.

"The words used were horrifying and have caused deep distress," she said.

"This is just a glimpse of the reality of the intimidation and the violence the community has been facing for years."

Ms Sullivan and the Shell to Sea campaign have called for the Garda Ombudsman to widen its inquiry and for a separate independent probe headed up by international experts.

It is understood the Ombudsman report will take a number of weeks to complete before being sent to the Garda Commissioner with any recommendations, which could include dismissal from the force.

The watchdog can also ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider taking a case if a criminal offence has been committed.

But sources suggest sanctions would more likely involve some of the officers being fined, permanently transferred and possible demotion.

Two of the Garda officers were based at Belmullet, and one each at Bangor Erris, Ballina and Castlebar, in Co Mayo.

Commissioner Callinan insisted the incident did not reflect the views or sentiments of the vast majority of his rank and file.

"I am conscious however that people's trust and confidence in our integrity must always be earned and maintained and as Garda Commissioner my promise is to ensure that we will continually work to protect these vital and important aspects of our relationship with the community," he said.

The findings of an initial internal Garda investigation into the hugely embarrassing affair has been passed to the Garda Ombudsman.

John Monaghan, another protester who lives near the contentious pipeline project, released a second tape, alleging a garda made sexual remarks about his wife during a confrontation in 2006.

When the Garda Ombudsman was set up the next year he tried to have it investigated but was told it was outside the time remit for lodging a complaint.

Mr Monaghan claimed the same garda regularly drove slowly past his and his wife's house in a cul-de-sac for several months after the alleged incident.

"This is systemic and the Ombudsman must widen its scope and that's why I'm putting this into the public domain," he said.

Campaigners also want an independent probe to cover the activities of a private security firm paid for by Shell to police the project.

It is understood the Garda Ombudsman has no plans to examine the second tape recording to emerge or to extend the scope of its inquiry.

The policing watchdog has sent a team to Co Mayo to interview the five Garda officers involved but has yet to speak to any of them.

Both women at the centre of the allegations were due to make private statements to the Ombudsman but postponed their appointment.

At least seven TDs attended the Shell to Sea press conference calling for an independent inquiry, including Joe Higgins, Clare Daly and Richard Boyd Barrett of the United Left Alliance, Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris and Independents Mick Wallace, Luke "Ming" Flanagan and Thomas Pringle.

Caoimhe Kerins, a Shell to Sea spokeswoman, said it was a disgrace that no Garda officers had been suspended to date over the controversy.

She also criticised the Garda Ombudsman because no officers had faced disciplinary action for alleged brutality and improper conduct at the pipeline protests, despite 111 complaints in recent years.

"This has to be the end of that impunity that gardai in north west Mayo have," she said.

Socialist TD Mr Higgins said the actions of the gardaí were like an occupying army against a civilian population in an occupied territory.

Ms Sullivan and another woman activist from Dublin were arrested last Thursday near Shell's construction compound after climbing onto the roof of a tractor.

They were taken from the scene in separate patrol cars, while their confiscated video camera was left running in another Garda car before being handed back to them.

The pipeline project has been the source of long-running, divisive demonstrations that have cost more than €14m to police so far.

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